It has always been interesting to me how differently both the Left and the Right view certain topics. I happen to be a conservative, but even still, I love to read columns in the NYTimes, and especially look at the comments posted at the end, which almost are all from people on the Left. As an example, check out the comment section in this recent Paul Krugman column here.
Nowhere is the difference more striking then when the subject of inequality comes up. The Right accuses the Left of envy, the Left accuses the Right of greed. The Right wants justice in the sense that if I work hard for something then I should be able to keep the fruit of my labor, while the Left wants justice in the sense that they want to stop the rich from using their wealth and power from gaining unfair riches. They see the poor as victims while we see people who take advantage of the system. We see the hard work it takes for people to achieve while they see people who rig rules to their advantage. They see the government as having been crucial to fixing numerous injustices, while we see government as having unnecessarily intruded in every aspect of our lives, restricting our freedoms.
In part this comes down to what bothers you more. The Left sees inequality and they want to “do something”! It’s based on seeing greed, abuse of power and victims, and then making the judgment that something is clearly wrong and needs to be fixed. The Right sees envy and injustices in a different form and we worry about what’s becoming of our country and freedom itself as government only continues to grow.
A friend of mine said it this way:
If the difference could be boiled down to one thing, I believe it is this: Conservatives believe better societies largely come about through forming better individuals. Liberals believe better societies largely come about through more expansive government.
Ah, but why does the Left want a more expansive government? Isn’t it that they see the individual as basically good but unfortunately oppressed in some manner (and therefore in need)? Oppressed by the rich. Oppressed by poverty. Oppressed by inadequate education. Oppressed by racists, sexists, bigots, homophobes, etc.
They see individuals as struggling, trying their best, but ultimately helpless in the face of all this victimization. Who can rescue them and stop all this oppression? Hasn’t the government set the slaves free, liberated women, created public education, opened marriage up to gays? How then can we allow children to go hungry, or let poor suffer?
Wouldn’t a perfect society put an end to all injustice and suffering? Do you really expect a person who has been victimized and pushed down all their life to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Can’t the embarrassingly wealthy individuals of this society contribute just a little more to help out?
In the end, conservatives have valid reasons for wanting to shrink government, while liberals have valid reasons for wanting to grow government. As it is, conservatives can count on the support of the greedy who want to hold onto what they have, while liberals can count on the support of the envious who want to get more things without doing anything for them. Socialism has a link to envy. Capitalism to greed.
Note that conservatives use government to deal with human failings as well. Our whole system of divided government was designed to provide a separation of powers to prevent the powerful from controlling us and robbing us of our freedoms. We also respect a system of laws that create a level playing field, knowing that the selfishness of man is always seeking unfair advantage. Is it such a stretch that the Left wants to use this same government to reduce injustice and hinder oppression?
The thing is, conservatives are not for injustice or oppression! We’re not for racism, sexism or bigotry. We just have qualms with how the Left proposes to solve these issues. Telling people that they have certain guaranteed entitlements saps them of any incentive to be responsible for themselves. Giving these handouts through an uncaring and faceless government hinders real human compassion and community.
But if all we do is call for smaller government, then we will invariably be painted as just greedy and uncaring.
So my thinking is that we need to recognize the good that the Left desires to do – support that – but not support their methods. Instead we need to show how their methods fail to do what they claim they want to do. And then come up with methods that will work.
For me, an impersonal and bureaucratic government with ever more rules, regulations and taxes does little to solve our problems. People solve problems. Both for ourselves when we take up responsibility and for our community when we give to others. While we need government, it should continuously be simplified, reduced and made more efficient.
You want to reduce greed and envy, then simplify government and get rid of all the loopholes and exceptions that politicians incessantly come up with to cater to various special interests. And keep getting rid of them year after year, so that everybody plays by the same simple rules. That’s fair. That’s justice.
What would you do to make a better country?